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Barbie, Movie Casting, and Ageism

Barbiemania is in full swing! It feels like so many people around are talking about their plans to watch Barbie, or their experiences watching the movie.

Like with many processes in life, the process to achieving box office success wasn’t smooth for the Barbie movie, including how some argued that Ryan Gosling, who played Ken, was “too old” for the role.

Now, just to be clear, Gosling is not actually that old, all things considered—he is 42 years old! And he has gained a reputation as a world-class actor. Nevertheless, Gosling has faced backlash for being too old for playing Ken, perhaps because some expected or wanted Ken to be in his 20s or something. This reeks of ageism.

However, here’s the thing: the ageist backlash towards Gosling is hardly new with movies— though it is a little unusual for a man to be the subject of ageist backlash. Female actors, in contrast, were found a few years ago to on average hit their peaks (in terms of number of roles the actor/actress gets) around the age of 30, before seeing their roles decline significantly from their 30s onward. Men on average saw the number of roles peak at the age of 46 before significantly declining; this is much later in life than women on average, but hardly an age at which most people in society start to think about retirement.

Perhaps a lot of this explains why older characters are not only underrepresented in movies, but also misrepresented. Many of the older characters portrayed in movies have found themselves with negative age-related stereotypes. And the older characters who do end up getting positive acclaim are much more likely to get Academy Award nominations for supporting roles than leading roles.

Ageism when it comes to Hollywood is pervasive. While the ageism that Ryan Gosling experienced with regard to his being “too old” to play Ken was awful, it is but a microcosm of a larger issue of ageism in Hollywood.




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